The worth of a political endorsement is questionable in statewide races, but the absence of one in the upcoming U.S. Senate election speaks volumes about the politically tricky dance for Republicans with their own senator, David Vitter.
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s refusal – so far – to endorse Vitter in the Senate race shows the difficulty some politicians are having in allying themselves with a senator tainted by a 2007 prostitution scandal and more recent revelations that Vitter allowed an aide to stay on the job for two years after pleading guilty to charges stemming from an attack on his ex-girlfriend.
It also shows just how closely Jindal guards his reputation as he eyes what he wants for his next job and his political future, and it reinforces the political back-room chatter that there’s little closeness between Louisiana’s top two ranking GOP officials.
Funny thing is Jindal’s endorsement hasn’t been proven to drum up votes for candidates, so the governor’s refusal to give it is far more noteworthy than Vitter having it. The popular governor has backed several losing candidates, including Republican state Treasurer John Kennedy in the 2008 U.S. Senate race and contenders for state legislative races.
In this year’s Senate contest, Jindal has backpedaled slightly on the endorsement issue after what seemed to be a definitive statement that he would steer clear of the race.
Asked on Sept. 3 whether he would endorse a candidate in the Senate race, Jindal said, “I think the voters in Louisiana are smart enough to make up their own minds.” Seemed direct enough that the governor wasn’t getting involved before the November election.
Then those comments, reported by The Advocate newspaper, blew up on political blogs and websites. So, a few days later, his office issued a much murkier statement that appeared to backtrack a bit.
“The governor hasn’t gotten involved in the Senate race yet,” spokeswoman Melissa Sellers said in a one-sentence e-mail last week.
That suggests that just maybe Jindal will weigh in on the race between Vitter, Democratic challenger Charlie Melancon and 10 other candidates. But when pressed to clarify, asked if the governor planned an endorsement and questioned about why he hasn’t endorsed so far, Sellers would only repeat the same one-line statement over and over again, refusing to explain.
Does that more nuanced response come after other Republicans suggested it’s not helpful to Vitter that Louisiana’s GOP governor won’t back his fellow Republican? Clearly, if the governor’s going to endorse, it’s far-fetched to think he’d be backing Melancon, a Democrat, or any of the other candidates who have little name recognition and have done little fundraising.
It’s not as if Jindal’s entirely avoided Vitter. In December 2008, the governor was the headlining politician on a list of Louisiana’s elected officials for a Washington, D.C., fundraiser for Vitter – and that was after the prostitution scandal.
So, if it’s OK to help him fundraise, wouldn’t that mean you support him?
Vitter’s campaign is trying to downplay the missing endorsement, issuing a statement from the incumbent senator that said, “I’m completely confident I’ll have Bobby’s and Louisiana conservatives’ support based on my principled opposition to the Obama big government agenda and Charlie Melancon’s clear votes for it.”
Even if Jindal now decides to jump in with an endorsement, it would seem forced, orchestrated by Republican Party bigwigs, and it would be obvious that the governor was pressured to get involved.
If he really liked and supported the candidate, wouldn’t he have said so by now, with less than two months to go before the Nov. 2 election?
EDITOR’S NOTE: Melinda Deslatte covers the state Capitol for The Associated Press.